Dragnet (1987)/Fletch Lives (1989) Double Feature

Today was a pretty busy day. I was thankfully so busy with freelance work that I still haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast I was on, nor was I able to go outside and enjoy the nearly 70-degree weather, but I was able to watch a few movies while I worked. I also got a chance to check out my brand new column on Maxim.com called We Like To Watch, which covers various TV shows you should check out. Anyway, the two movies I watched were Dragnet and Fletch Lives. I had never seen Dragnet before, but a few months ago I picked up a Tom Hanks 2-disc, 3-movie pack featuring Money Pit, The ‘burbs and it. After seeing the video at the end of the review on Maxim.com I figured I’d finally give it a watch.

And man, this is a really weird movie (I should have guessed from the video), but I really enjoyed it. In addition to being a really funny movie (you’ve got prime Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd here), it also plays to my love of continuity. See, I’m not a fan of the original Dragnet, but I do appreciate that Aykroyd plays a relative of the original Joe Friday and that Harry Morgan reprises his role from the original series as now-Captain Gannon. By doing this they’re not dumping on or forgetting the original and it fits in with the rest. Not every adaptation can work like this, but I like when it does (they did something similar with the Sam Jackson Shaft movie). This one turned out to be pretty long, so hit the jump for the whole thing.

Anyway, like I said this is a weird movie. Aykroyd and Hanks are on the trail of this group called P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy) who…well, they’re trying to do a bunch of bad stuff. I’ll be honest, some of the finer details of the movie might have been lost on me while I was working, but I do know that a lot of dudes were dressed up in goat legs while the P.A.G.A.N. leader threw a woman in a big pool with a giant snake. From there, Aykroyd, who plays the super-uptight and by-the-book officer in LA, comes a bit undone as Hanks’ loosened-up-ness rubs off and the case gets crazier and crazier.

One interesting thing about this movie is that it was co-written and directed by Tom Mankiewicz who mostly wrote more serious flicks like Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die and The Man With The Golden Gun along with uncredited runs on the scripts for both Superman and Superman II. Meanwhile, he directed one of my favorite comedies of all time Delirious. I think he’s a big reason the movie has such a fun feel since he;s clearly comfortable in both the action and the funny. And now for the video, which hopefully won’t make you want to NOT watch the movie. I give you Tom Hanks and Dan Aykroyd rapping:

I come by my love of the Fletch flicks and Chevy Chase honestly thanks to my dad. I distinctly remember renting both Fletches a number of times and watching with him. As I got older I bought both movies on DVD (and I think I might have had them on VHS too, but can’t quite remember). The DVDs are pretty paltry and I can’t believe they went with that weird cover for Fletch Lives with the snapshots instead of this hilarious and awesome poster painting here which I remember from the VHS cover.

Anyway, something about Dragnet made me think of Fletch Lives, I’m guessing it was the bigness of it and something about the P.A.G.A.N. “ritual” reminded me of R. Lee Ermey’s Jimmy Lee Farnsworth shenanigans. Whatever the reason, I had a great time watching Fletch Lives as usual. I’m not sure if someone who’s not a fan of Chase will like the movie, but I’m a huge fan of his characterization of Fletch, a man who uses words to get out of whatever crazy situation he finds himself in and comes out on top (eventually). Plus, he’s a writer so I of course love that. He even makes grammar joke in this one!

The plot finds Fletch heading down south to take over the plantation house his recently deceased aunt left him. As you might expect, things aren’t quite what they appear as Fletch runs into a Bible-themed theme park, someone who wants to buy his land, a dead girl he had sex with (before she died of course, this isn’t Weekend At Bernie’s) and the Ku Klux Klan. There’s a lot going on with the story and I probably would have missed a lot of the details had I not seen the movie a bunch of times.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Fletch or Fletch Lives, just go do it. Right now. If I know, you can even borrow them. I like the movies so much I’ve gone on to read two of the Gregory McDonald books the movies were based on and have two more in my to read pile. On a completely different note, I found out that Fletch Lives director Michael Ritchie also produced and co-directed the weak slasher movie Student Bodies, which is pretty interesting.

You might notice that this post has a Saturday Night Live label on it. In addition to the fact the SNL alumns star in both of these movies, I also wanted to bring up one of the first things I ever noticed about the relationships between movies, actors and directors. That is that any movie starring a current or former SNL cast member usually has another one in at least a bit part. At first, from looking at the Dragnet credits, I thought my theory might have been busted, but it turns out that Dan’s brother Peter not only had bit parts on SNL, he was also a writer. In Fletch Lives, Phil Hartman has a bit part as the man running a lab. So, as far as I’m considered, the theory still stands (but I haven’t watched all of Chevy Chase’s or Bill Murray’s movies, which will surely kill my theory).

Halloween Scene: Student Bodies (1981)

After watching Slaughter High and linking to it on Facebook, my buddy Harmony from Toledo (we met while working at Barry’s back in the dizzle) recommended I check out Student Bodies. Now, usually when someone suggests a cheesy-sounding horror movie from the 80s, you’re in for some campy nonsense. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Student Bodies isn’t just another slasher flick, but actually a parody in the vein of Scary Movie, but, you know funny! Zing!!!

I really really liked Student Bodies (thanks Harmony!). Not only is it funny, but it also adeptly captures the feel and tropes of the slasher genre and only a year or two after it really kicked off. Actually, as opposed to comparing it to Scary Movie, it’s like a slapsticky Scream. You get a rundown of the rules (the killer only kills people who have had or are just about to have sex). But, in addition to the characters being aware of the rules, we also get treated to on-screen clues like a body count and what not.

There’s a scene early on when this girl and her boyfriend are in her product placement-filled house while her parents are out. The boyfriend hops in the showed and the girl is killed by what looks like a walking trash bag. After he’s done, he jumps into bed with the corpse and says the amazing line “You’re not responding to my maleness.” His delivery is a bit awkward, which I’m going to guess was intentional to mock some of the crummy actors in other slasher flicks. After he gets killed, her parents come home and her mom keeps screaming at all these random things (dishes not done, food eaten, etc.) meanwhile her dad says “I hope she wasn’t murdered in our bed.” It had me rolling.

I highly recommend this movie for any horror fans, especially if you love 80s slasher movies. It nails all the beats and is over the top in a hilarious way. Good stuff. Also, there are scenes that will remind of Pulp Fiction, Home Alone, Wizard of Oz and Toxic Avenger.